Metro working on upgrades to its train arrival signs

November 20, 2013

Metro photo shows a next train sign near station entrance for the Blue and Orange lines.

At the turn of the century, the electronic message boards on Metro platforms were the latest and greatest thing for getting information to riders. “This will deal with their anxiety and give them a greater sense of comfort,” said Richard White, who was general manager of the transit authority when the Passenger Information Display System was introduced.

Things seemed to get old in a hurry for those anxious riders. Compared to having no information at all about train arrivals, the signs were great, but it wasn’t long before passengers began to notice some issues. One frequent issue was the signs’ accuracy. A train might show up show up at a different time, or turn out to be a different line color from the one shown on the board. Riders also began to realize they wanted more travel information than the signs were providing.

Over the years, the transit authority upgraded the available information in response to feedback from riders. The new advisories included the number of cars in approaching trains — not always accurate — as well as service advisories and updates on elevator and escalator problems. Signs were added at the mezzanine levels to guide passengers who had not yet reached the platforms.

Now, Metro is giving the system another upgrade in hardware and software. Here are some things riders should notice by the time the work is done this winter:

  • The next train signs at stations between McPherson Square and Franconia-Springfield will be modified so they always display the next Blue Line train, even if it is not one of the next three trains scheduled to arrive. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said this is being done in response to riders’ problems figuring out how to handle the Rush Plus train schedule at peak hours. Many Blue Line riders think Rush Plus is misnamed, because the service plan cut back on the number of Blue Line trains at the height of Rush hour while adding Orange Line trains. A rider who gets to Farragut West around 5 p.m. might wait for a Blue Line train to King Street, but depending on the schedule, the rider might be better off going to the other platform and taking an Orange Line train to L’Enfant Plaza and transferring to the Yellow Line to reach King Street. To make the best choice, the rider must first know when the next Blue Line train is coming.
  • Throughout the system, the letters and numbers will be modified to give them a crisper and brighter appearance, making the information easier to see from down the platform. Riders should have an easier time figuring out whether they’re looking at a “6″ or an “8″ without walking right up to the board.
  • As a train nears the station, the boards will temporarily stop displaying any other information besides the train arrival information. While the service advisories are helpful, they take a long time to scroll through, and that can become annoying when people are trying to figure out where to stand based on the length of the approaching train.
  • Metro also intends to improve the train arrival predictions shown on its Web site for end-of-the-line stations, an information system linked to the platform displays.
  • At the inbound platform on the lower level of the Fort Totten station, and also at stations immediately inbound from Fort Totten, riders will see predictions for the next Yellow Line train before the train gets to the Fort Totten platform. This is the platform for both Green and Yellow Line trains. The outbound Yellow Line trains go beyond the Fort Totten platform, then reverse and come back on the inbound side, which seems to baffle the prediction system.
  • The signs also are being upgraded to show Silver Line train predictions for stations between Largo Town Center and Wiehle-Reston East station.
Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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